Last night, I went to Bridgewater State’s Visiting Author Series event, since I enjoy going and will go whenever I can.
They happen at least twice a year (though there are other readings that happen on campus as well, and I go to those when I know about them, too), and I just think that it’s such a neat experience that’s offered by the school and the English department. For one thing, they’re free events, and they give students (and alumni like myself) the opportunity to hear good writing and talk to authors and, maybe most importantly, ask them questions. As a reader, it’s an enjoyable because you can hear the work the way the author intended it to sound, and because you can ask questions about the meaning behind a poem or story they’ve written, and as a writing student, it means getting the chance to get advice or talk craft with an another, older writer.
Every time I go to a reading (whether at Bridgewater or otherwise), it winds up being a contemplative experience for me. It’s the same thing with concerts or going to museums. These things are, in a way, holy, and inspire reverence like going to church would. On the one hand, maybe it’s self-centered to think of things through that lens, to think of things primary in the ways that they relate back to myself, but on the other, it’s an experience, and we internalize these things and make them a part of ourselves in order to learn from them. Besides, I can’t say what other people got from going to see Clarence Major, especially since at least a few of the people were there as part of a class. So I can only speak for myself.
It seems fitting then that lately I’ve been thinking about the connections between visual art and literature, and that many of last night’s poems had some allusions to the history of art. Sometimes when you’re thinking hard about something, it’s good to have a physical representation of the dialogue put in front of you. The guest last night is a painter as well as a writer, so maybe it’s natural that there be communication between the two forms within his poems, but then, not everyone making references to poems in art or to art in poems has had talents in both fields, so. In any case, I’ve been thinking about these things, and the conversation that happens between literature and visual art (and I almost mis-typed it as “in visual art,” but I suppose that’s relevant, too). For a while, I wanted to have a minor in art history–some people change their majors frequently, but I was constantly deciding whether or not to have more than one minor–until they added a studio art requirement, and, let’s face it, I can’t paint. But it’s hard not to be moved by art, to enjoy it, and, if you’re a writer who thinks in those ways, to avoid it coming up in the work you yourself produce.
I had the opportunity to ask Clarence Major his opinion on the matter, and he referred to the similarities as being unending between the two, and the differences mainly existing by way of how the art is experienced. Poetry must be spoken and paintings in particular exist and are viewed like that–he divided the two between time (poetry) and space (painting), and I think that’s a fairly accurate assessment. You only experience poetry fully during the time that it’s being spoken, and paintings will always occupy their assigned space (whether they reach out to us or not).
So I’m beginning to get the idea that maybe these two things must refer to each other at least some of the time. They tend to express the same things, do similar things to get their points across (“metaphor” was one example, as well as “allusion”), and both have the ability to touch people and inspire them. In this way, I don’t think the culture of the arts would necessarily function as well or as fully with the exclusion of one or the other; it’s difficult to imagine people who are incapable of, if not reading, then at least enjoying both (assuming that the poetry is being spoken to them, of course, which is something we’ve been doing since we had paper).
In one of the poems, he references Bruegel in a context different from how Auden or Williams uses him, makes note of the bumbling, oblivious peasants who, while perhaps not treated justly by the old master, were at least usually happy in their ignorance. Even when you’re making the same allusions (a term I just taught to fifth graders today), you’re not. I prefer Le Sueur’s Ganymede to Rembrandt’s (but I in general dislike Rembrandt, anyway). Knowing the difference seems, to me, to be important, especially if you’re reading Ovid.
Check out more about BSU’s Visiting Authors Series here.